Poking around the VEIL-RFID issue

23 Feb

My excitement over Kathryn Cramer’s “what-if?” regarding the potential uses of Video Encoded Invisible Light (VEIL) by the entertainment industry was tempered by phule77, who very reasonably asked, “How much of this is FUD, and how much of it is a real concern (as in, likely to come to pass, rather than just mucking about in the background)?”

(Quick recap: VEIL is the super-sekrit technology proposed as a required standard for all digital recording devices. VEIL would supposedly prevent us from using them to do crazy things like…record stuff. There’s a bill in Congress right now.)

First off, as a marketing copywriter, I recognize the undeniable value of FUD in getting one’s message across. Asking, “Is the government secretly handing control of your computer over to the entertainment industry?” is an excellent way of alerting people to what’s going on and getting them engaged with the issues.

Phule’s comment led me to read the patent application Kathryn relates to the proposed analog hole-plugging standard in order to create her hypothetical “subdermal content-controlling chip” that I described in my last post. I can see the connections she’s making, but as to how likely they are to happen – I think it may be a stretch. RFID is certainly not part of the proposed legislation, and I suspect she’s using it as a way to get us to think seriously about the implications of VEIL.

The invention, as near as I can make out, works as follows:

  • You have video over here, and location data obtained through Global Positioning Systems (GPS) over here.
  • It would be nice if there were a way to combine the two, so that you could tell exactly where a given video was shot. The potential commercial and military applications of this ought to be obvious.
  • There are ways to encode data streams in video signals. These data streams can be read and processed by external devices, which then do something with the information. A recent Batman-themed toy, for example, acts as a modern day Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring by turning data it receives during a Batman cartoon on the television into special messages, images, unlock codes, and other goodies for the toy’s user.
  • This invention encodes GPS data in recorded video.

That’s what I get from it. Now, if you have any interest in reading the rest of this, I strongly urge you to also read Kathryn’s post, because I’m going to attempt to edit her train of thought for brevity’s sake and I don’t want to unintentionally misrepresent her.

  • Assume that the user is chipped and not just the devices, then consider the implications of a mandatory VEIL standard combined with embedding device positional data in video signals.
  • Why assume that the user is chipped?
  • Human Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is already on the table. Wikipedia: “Cincinnati video surveillance company CityWatcher.com now requires employees to use VeriChip human implantable RFID microchips to enter a secure data center.” (NOTE: confirmed, though this solution doesn’t appear to be as secure as they’d hoped.)
  • What appears on the screen of your computer is a video signal. Therefore:
  • Control of that signal is control of the reality coming in through the computer, tailored (assuming RFID-embedded users) to a specific user or set of users in proximity to the device.
  • Extrapolate a mandatory system for controlling video signals which can tell how close you are to a device and can read your RFID chip.
  • Great system for keeping kids out of online smut, yes?
  • Given this, other pieces of consumer electronics might also read this chip as part of a consumer-level watermarking process.
  • Further extrapolation: As part of an extended VEIL system, the possibility of video cameras watermarking your video and photos with the IDs of everyone nearby when something was recorded (NOTE: I could see the value of this to consumers. Most folks I know choose to display the date and time in their home videos, and writing names and dates on the backs of photos is very common.)
  • Is this unfair, given that the technology evolved to make toys interact with the television?
  • Answer: This is not restricted to toys. It’s about mandating a potentially repressive standard in the US for which the entertainment industry will provide munificent R&D money. (NOTE: that, I think, is the key statement that links the entertainment industry with the patent application. However, the patent application doesn’t mention RFID, nor can I find mention of RFID in descriptions of how VEIL works. I don’t know what the device sensors that read the data encoded using VEIL are exactly – maybe they’re RFID, maybe they’re made of delicious processed meat product. Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a cocktail waitress!)
  • The secrecy surrounding the VEIL technology gives us no reason to believe that it would function at the most basic level advertised, securing “content” for “content providers” and defending it against “piracy.”
  • Therefore, we need to take a close look at what those patents actually describe.

Hear, hear!

By the way, the discussion about my last post led me to believe that using RFID to block access by “pirates” to protected content delivered through computers and televisions isn’t feasible. Imagine, my friends said, a blocked user walking into a bar – suddenly the TV screen goes dark. I also realized that protecting kids from adult content would interfere with the ability of the adults in the household to view that content. If Timmy gets up in the middle of the night for a drink of water, suddenly Cinemax switches off and the Disney channel comes on. It would be too big of a pain in the ass.

I bet some people might like to see it implemented in prisons, though. Say, a chip that prevents a convicted sexual predator from accessing the Internet while in prison. Or even after they’re paroled…

Tags: , , ,

%d bloggers like this: